I ve been meeting many certified dog trainers lately. It s actually exhausting. A few of my students were looking to get a certification when they graduate. We don t give one. We do give a course completion certificate. What s the difference? Actually, a lot.
People who are certified in a subject, early in their careers seem to think that they have already learned most of what they needed to know. The truth is most certifications are bare minimum foundations to get you started in a field. Even those who display initial arrogance early, usually learn this through the years as they become seasoned in their profession. There is usually a lot of classroom work and a minimal amount of hands on in these programs. When we designed, NYADT, the school for dog trainers, Mary and I decided to go about things differently. To hell with paper, we want skills, skills, and more skills, backed by as much experience as we can provide.
Our program, besides being over 90% hands on, stresses that the graduation is the BEGINNING of what you will learn in your career. The process doesn t stop. If it does, it is time to move on to something else in life. We have been going to networking meetings, training seminars, etc, everyone usually introduces themselves. I ll say, Hi, I m Frank from Best Friends Dog Training. In a multi occupation course I say name and I m a dog trainer Simple and too the point. When I hear people say I m a certified dog trainer and behaviorist I know that 99% of the time the person has no idea what they are doing. Since there are only about 50 Board Certified Veterinary behaviorists in the country, and three behaviorists are sitting next to me at a local meeting, chances are I m right.
Slowly, as our students are progressing, they are seeing this for themselves. Certified Trainers use their certification as a badge of honor, and a shield to hide behind from the rest of the world. Some even put initials after their name CPDT " Certified Pet Dog Trainer, and other stuff like that. Putting CPDT or anything else after your name doesn t make you any better. In fact, to me it s compensation for insecurities about their professional ability. They are quick with an understanding of book knowledge, but usually can t recognize it when it happens in front of their face for real. What s worse, they can t fix it, more often than not, with the one and only training method they learned.
This phenomenon isn t the first time I have been involved in this. Many moons ago, in the late eighty s (yea folks, its been 20 years) I went to EMT school. I was a volunteer Fireman with North Merrick Fire Dept and wanted to become an Emergency Medical Technician. I passed my state certification, got my state numbers and was ready to go.. sort of. I quickly found that when I was alone with a patient, all the book knowledge and class time wasn t helping me much. I had few things to do rote for a situation to help someone make a diagnosis. I found out that the hands on real life experience I gained over the next year made the book knowledge come to life.
Step two of this occurred after I was in my mind seasoned after 2 years and still NYS Certified, so I joined the ranks of NYC*EMS. The first day of the academy our instructor, Ray Simons, said to us, I don t care what experience you have, what you think you know, or what you think you ve done, but you don t know sh*t, and haven t seen sh*t! I remember thinking how wrong he was, and was amazed a year later at how right he had been. No amount of classroom, book reading, seminars, movie watching, college degrees, or conversations with the super experienced EMT s and Medics could ever prepare you for the life as an EMT in Brooklyn North. All of that however, all did come into play and make you better AFTER or AS the hands on experience came into your life. Likewise, nothing other than tons of hands on experience will make you an EMT, a dog trainer, or any other profession for that matter.
Dog Trainers, the good ones, may stumble to find the scientific word for things, but know what they are looking at and know different ways of approaching a problem behavior. They haven t pigeon holed themselves into a particular method of training. Most good trainers can use, and more importantly have become proficient with many different methodologies and tools. Usually they choose a method or system that they feel works best for them and their clients. But it is a choice. Let me repeat this IT IS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE THEY MAKE! This is important so if the dog has needs that are different from what is the norm, they can be addressed as the dog needs with whatever method or technique they need at that moment. .
A good trainer can walk into a shelter, have someone pick three dogs at random, and they can clicker train one, leash train a second dog, and remote collar train the third dog. This should be the minimum standard of any Certification test, or school, and folks, I can tell you it isn t. Not even close. Most people who are nationally certified can do the first, some can do the first two, and finding someone who do all three, well they usually don t bother taking the test. I don t care if you are certified or not, learning as much as possible and teaching need to be your two major priorities as a trainer.
**** Note " in another writing, I ll discuss the difference between a tool and a method. Many people mistakenly think leash training, or especially remote collar training is a method. They are not. They are just tools, and there are many different methods from very gentle to very harsh for using those tools. ****
I ve never been on the cutting edge of fashion, and unless I get an extreme makeover I doubt I ll ever find myself there. I still think that unless the title or initials are MD, DVM, PhD, etc, you have no business putting them behind your name. Maybe, I must concede, the lack of initials thing is my inability to keep up with the times. So, to try to keep up with the dog training Joneses, maybe we ll start using a new set of initials. We can even let our graduating students use and I think it sums it up well.. So if I have to use initials, I can say Hi, I m Frank Bonomo, JDT What does JDT stand for? Just Dog Trainer. I really think that all that needs to be said. Outside of academia, ability and actions speak louder than titles and initials ever will.
Thank you for reading this,